World champion with a slew of records under her belt, the first Italian swimmer to compete in five Olympics and as many straight finals in the same race, world record holder in the 200m freestyle, her chosen discipline. When we talk about Verona, especially in English, we cannot overlook its swimming star, Federica Pellegrini, who just presented “Oro”, her new book on her amazing competitive career, in Verona.    

The water queen who opened the doors to Italian female swimming  

They nickname her La Divina – the divine –, because only in this way she can be referred to, as the champion who diffused Italian swimming over the world. Federica had her first swim at the age of six, and the pool quickly became her second home, much like Verona, which adopted the Venetian swimmer in 2006. Costume and bonnet her second skin, the constant smell of chlorine; hard training and determination have brought her to the victory of her first medal in the 200m in 2004, when she was just sixteen years old in Athens. Still competing in the same category four years later, she gave Italy its first female Olympic victory, climbing the top step of the podium. 

“Races have never been easy for me, but I was looking for that last-breath battle. Adrenaline rushed and I was happy when I realized I had to enter the water and fight to the death”, Pellegrini explains in “Gold.” This is the mindset that led the queen of Italian swimming to be the only swimmer to win the 200-400 double in two consecutive World Cups (Rome 2009 and Shanghai 2011) and the only one to win eight world medals in the same race in as many successive editions.    

World records and the fatal year 2009    

The more effort put in; the more triumphs multiplied. Pellegrini set her first world record in the 200m on March 27, 2007, at the World Championships in Melbourne, with a time of 1’56″47. Federica had just beaten her sporting idol, the German Franziska van Almsick, who had held the record for the previous five years. Everything improved from there, with a total of eleven world records.    

2009 was a watershed moment, with five world records in a single year, including 3’59″15 in the 400m at the Rome World Championships, when a swimmer crossed the distance in under four minutes for the first time in history. A year of triumphs and losses, the latter of a personal character. The sudden passing of coach Alberto Castagnetti in October, shortly after the Olympic championships, sparked a series of technical disputes and disappointments. And it was to the master that the eleventh record in the 200 freestyle was dedicated, earning her the title of “Swimmer of the Year” in the American “Swimming World Magazine”.    

An example for generations of athletes   

Federica Pellegrini has known generations of athletes in her twenty-year career, beginning with the Australian Ariarne Titmus, twelve years younger, or the Chinese Yang Junxuan, rival in the World Cup final in Gwangiu 2019.    

But it goes beyond sports. Federica has frequently expressed herself on personal and sensitive matters, telling her audience, who has watched her with affection since she was a fifteen years old making her debut in the 4×1000 freestyle relay at the 2003 World Championships in Barcelona.   

Between bulimia and anxiety attacks, she has always managed to rise again, as seen by the Phoenix tattooed symbol of rebirth. In her most recent book, she tells, “At first, when I was just a little girl, I felt a void inside that I filled with victories, but after a while, it wasn’t that anymore. I just did it for myself after a certain point. They asked as to whom I wished to devote my achievements. I devoted the most difficult ones, those that occurred after tough circumstances, and those of rebirths to myself. Because I was the only one who knew what I had gone through to get those achievements. I was the wolf. What did the other people know? Who had experienced even half of what I had? Does that make me a bitch?”    

The Divine of swimming’s retirement  

Italian Championships in the short tank, 2021. “When I see the scoreboard, I slap the water of the pool: yes, this time I did it! I look at Alberto and we burst into tears like two fools. Gold and new world record, 1’54’82”. The last race ended like the whole career: as a winner. Federica retired winning her medal number 130 among the applauses of the audience of Riccione, surrounded by her family and the people she loves most.   

Photo Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto